| No. of participating countries: 181
| No. of athletes: 2220
Ten years after Fukuoka, in 2011 the best of the best in aquatics met again in the Far East, this time in China. The 14th FINA World Championships were held in Shanghai from 16 to 31 July. The USA topped the medal table, Russia won all synchronised swimming events and China swept all the diving titles.
2,157 competitors from 178 nations competed in the 16-day event, which was held at the newly opened Shanghai Oriental Sports Centre. For the first time in the history of swimming, qualification times were introduced, set by the FINA Bureau in January 2010.
As two years earlier, a US-China rivalry dominated the race for the top spot in the medal ranks. The order remained unchanged, with the Americans retaining their lead only thanks to more golds (17 versus 15). Overall, the hosts collected the most medals, 36 to be precise, while Americans brought home 32. The silver medals would have tipped the scales in China’s favour (13-), while the Americans had one more bronze (9 to 8). Russia finished third with eight golds, six silvers and four bronzes.
The Hungarian team won one gold medal in Shanghai, with Dániel Gyurta defending his world title in the 200m breaststroke. Of the four bronze medals, two were won by Gergő Kis (800m and 1500m freestyle) and one each by László Cseh (200m medley) and Csaba Gercsák (25km open water swimming).
In the men’s swimming events the Americans were the most successful, mainly thanks to Ryan Lochte, who won four individual events (200 freestyle, 200 backstroke, 200 IM and 400 IM). His gold medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay gave him a total of five podium finishes, and he was also the first one to bring down a shiny suit world record in the long-course races – bettering his own mark from Rome in the 200m IM to clock 1:54.00. His compatriot Michael Phelps finished second and László Cseh third. Add that ne one has ever swum a better time at this distance ever since.
The other world record was no less symbolic, set in the middle of the US-China duel by the home hero Sun Yang in the 1500m freestyle in 14:34.14. There was a rare thrill for those gathered for the 100m backstroke, ending in a dead heat for the gold and the two competitors came from same nation, France’s Jérémy Stravius and Camille Lacourt. The Brazilians won three gold medals, with sprinters César Cielo (50m freestyle and butterfly) and Felipe França Silva (50m breast).
Like Lochte, Dániel Gyurta defended his Rome title, winning the 200m in 2:08.41 – but what made his effort truly remarkable that he became the first one to beat returning Japanese emperor Kosuke Kitajima at a major long-course meet in ten years – the gap was 0.22sec between these two giants. Fellow Hungarian Gergő Kis set new Hungarian records in both the 800 and 1500 freestyle events, enough for a bronze medal each, both times behind Sun Yang and Canada’s Ryan Cochrane.
The American women replicated the men’s performance, with six individual and two relay titles, the only difference being that while two swimmers, Lochte and Phelps, shared the half-dozen golds, the women’s team had five respective winners: Missy Franklin (200 back), Jessica Hardy (50 breast), Rebecca Soni (100 and 200 breast), Dana Vollmer (100 butterfly) and Elizabeth Beisel (400medley). Apart from Soni, only Federica Pellegrini of Italy managed to earn a double, in the 200m and 400m freestyle. In terms of wins, the hosts finished three golds behind the Americans, with Zhao Jing in the 100 backstroke, Jiao Liuyang in the 200 butterfly and Ye Shiwen in the 200medley.
And although dead-heats are usually rare, the women also produced one in Shanghai, in the 100m freestyle, where Aleksandra Gerasimenya of Belarus and Jeanette Ottesen of Denmark both finished atop in 53.45. No new world records were set in the female competitions, only two American records, one by Missy Franklin in the 200 back (2:05.10) and the other by the US women’s 4×100 team of Coughlin, Soni, Vollmer, Franklin (3:52.36).
The open water swimming events were held on the beach in Jinshan district in south-west Shanghai, the first time a team event was included to the programme, with mixed male-female teams competing in a 5 km race. The seven medals up for grabs were shared by seven nations.
In the men’s events, Germany’s Thomas Lurz, who had achieved a double in Rome two years earlier, won the shortest distance to defend his world title. In the 10 kilometres, Lurz (1:54.27.2) was just less than three seconds behind Greece’s Spyridon Gianniotis (1:54.24.7) for another victory. Bulgarian Petar Stoichev won the 25km race, with Csaba Gercsák coming third.
In the women’s competition, Swann Oberson of Switzerland triumphed in 5 kilometres, Keri-Anne Payne of Great Britain in the 10km and Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil began his golden quest in 25 kilometres, to build a unique career in the coming ten years. In the latter distance, German world champion Angela Maurer of Rome, like Lurz, just missed out on victory and the title by 2.1 seconds.
The US team of Andrew Gemmel, Sean Ryan and Ashley Twichell were the first winners of the mixed team event.
Russian synchronised swimmers won all seven events in Shanghai. Nathalia Ishchenko was unbeaten wherever she competed, winning 2 gold medals in solo, duet and team events apiece to become the most successful athlete in the entire World Championships with six titles. Unlike most swimmers, Ishchenko could easily perform without goggles and with a lung capacity of nearly six and a half litres, she could stay underwater for three minutes and five seconds.
The Chinese synchronised swimmers tried to keep pace with the unbeaten Russians, winning six silver and one bronze medal.
In diving they really ruled the scene. They did not let a single gold medal to their rivals, winning ten out of ten events. They even took home the silver medals in four individual competitions. Overall, the Russian diving team finished second with two silver and one bronze. The Germans took the imaginary third place on the podium with one second and three third places.
In men’s water polo, the stakes were particularly high at the World Championships, with the top three teams automatically qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics. In the men’s final, Italy beat defending champions Serbia 8-7, but as the latter had already clinched a place in the five-man competition by winning the World League, the loser of the third-place match between Croatia and Hungary (12-11) also automatically booked their ticket to the English capital. It was also the third world title for Italy (1978, 1994, 2011).
Italy’s triumph was quite astonishing, but it was nothing compared to the outcome of the women’s tourney where the Greeks won their first ever gold medal in any majors, beating the host Chinese team 9-8 in the final. Russia took third place by beating Italy, while the US ladies couldn’t make the semis for the first time since 1998.